June 2013 will mark the 10th anniversary of a moment that revolutionised English football and perhaps football in general. A relatively unknown Russian tycoon, Roman Abramovich walked through the gates of Stamford Bridge to purchase the London club and over the next decade would embark on a spending spree, which would run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
There have been a number of Russians who have followed in his footsteps. Alexandre Gaydamak flirted with Portsmouth; Anton Zingarevich has just seen his Reading side relegated to the Championship after just a season in the English Premier League, while of course Alisher Usmanov owns a 25% stake in Arsenal Football Club. Russian oligarchs aren’t just exclusive to English football, with Suleyman Kerimov revolutionizing the game domestically in Russia, by buying his hometown club Anzhi Makhachkala.
However, I don’t want to give a list of the various Russian owners who have stakes in football clubs around Europe, as this would be both long and boring. Rather I would like to mention perhaps one of the most unheralded but passionate Russian businessmen who has taken an interest in the world’s most popular game.
The name Sergey Galitsky will ring very few bells to anyone outside of Russia and perhaps even inside the country itself. In the space of five years, the 45 year old has set up a football club from scratch and now FC Krasnodar are a main stay of the Russian Premier League. An 8.2 billion dollar fortune which sees him sit 138th on the Forbes rich list also helps, however, Galitsky has a love for football which is undisputed and perhaps unmatched.
Just by visiting the club in the south of Russia, it is clear that Galitsky’s interest is not fleeting. FC Krasnodar boast training ground facilities that could match any club in the world, and this includes Real Madrid and Barcelona. The club has set up a stunning academy, which attracts children from around the Krasnodar region, where they have the opportunity to gain an excellent education both on and off the pitch. The team’s owner has spoken on many occasions that it is his dream that, “one day our side will be full of graduates from our academy”, while if that wasn’t enough, construction is about to start on a state of the art 36,000 all-seater stadium.
Galitsky is something of a rarity in Russian football. With the exception of Suliman Kerimov, he is the only private owner of a football club in the domestic Premier League, with the majority of clubs being owned by corporations, such as Zenit and Gazprom or Lokomotiv and Russian Railways. This helps to explain his desire for FC Krasnodar to succeed as he is backing the club, not through obligation, but through his own love and free will. “In football you get enjoyment that you can’t get in other forms of entertainment. Half way through watching a film, you already know who has killed who, but in football you never know what is going to happen and this is just like real life,” commented the 45 year old.
Unlike the likes of Abramovich or Usmanov, who made their wealth though oil and metals, Galitsky made his fortune through retail, setting up the supermarket chain ‘Magnit’, which has become the largest in Russia. However, trying to have the same success in Russian football could even prove to be a challenge for this entrepreneur.
Galitsky said: “There is no business in Russian football. I have said this on a hundred occasions. When a ticket costs one and a half dollars, how can you make a business out of Russian football?” Tickets do cost slightly more than one and a half dollars, but Galitsky does have a point, as clubs in Russia are never going to charge the prices that top clubs around the continent are able to, as Russians do not possess the same disposable income at present. Therefore the model of wealthy backers continuing to support Russian clubs out of their own pockets will continue for the foreseeable future, which could pose some interesting questions when UEFA’s financial fair play rules come into force. However, if there is one man with Russian football who is capable of making his team profitable, it is more than likely to be Galitsky.
Richard van Poortvliet is a sport presenter and correspondent at Russia Today, based in Moscow.